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Anthrax: RIBA moves to calm fears of chemical threat to HQ

The RIBA has taken the cautionary step of issuing guidance about anthrax to its staff at Portland Place in the wake of a number of discoveries of the dangerous substance in the US.

In an internal e-mail issued last week, the institute's Baz Dickson, who served in the Gulf, sought to quell fears of a chemical or biological threat to the home of architecture, but gave his advice along with a number of reasons why staff should remain vigilant.

Dickson assured staff that the substance is not contagious but inhalation of anthrax will lead to fever, difficulty in breathing and feeling 'miserable'.

He said 'death typically occurs within a few days after these symptoms if the person doesn't receive medical treatment', although antibiotics could be a preventative measure if taken early enough.

'It should be noted that the mere act of opening an envelope or package containing a suspected hazard would not generally provide the energy necessary to release the hazard, ' he said. 'Of course, if a suspected exposure did occur within the RIBA, then government agencies would conduct a rapid investigation to determine the nature and extent of the contamination, and to identify exposed persons who may need antibiotics to prevent illness.'

And he cautioned regular openers of mail to be alert to 'sticky, oily, powdery or other unusual substances on mail or packages, and excessive, inadequate or missing postage'. Dickson said staff should also be on the lookout for: common words misspelled; unexpected mail; unusual or unknown postmarks or names of sender; wrong titles or names in addresses; strange odours; excessive tape or string used in wrapping; unfamiliar handwriting or a foreign style not normally received; no return address or nonsensical return address; and visual distractions (colour stickers or illustrations).

Dickson said suspect packages should be isolated by placing them inside a plastic bag which should be sealed by folding and taping. This should then be placed inside a second plastic bag and sealed, while handlers should 'wash hands with soap and warm water', then contact managers.

They will determine whether to contact the police.

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